Learning language is a lengthy process. I truly believe it begins from birth. That’s why I narrate nearly everything happening around my baby from the minute they enter the world. I talk about making dinner, tying my shoes and changing her diaper. I have actually had many people stare at me in the grocery store as I chat away to my tiny baby. Perhaps this is not a common concept.
I do believe that it is a direct result of that continuous talking (and refusal to dumb things down) that all four of my children have been exceptional speakers from very early on.
I do realize that there are various factors that can come into play, such as speech issues, that no amount of narration could overcome. Some kids just need extra help and I am a big supporter of early intervention.
With so much to learn it is reasonable to expect some mispronunciation from our children. Some of it is developmentally on par, like saying “goed” instead of went. It shows they are understanding the concept of past tense.
Sometimes it is simply mis-hearing or jumbling parts of a big word. Even my well spoken children had random words that just didn’t come out right. My second daughter called flamingoes “maflingoes”.
My first reaction is always to simply model proper speech back to any child who is mispronouncing words. For the most part this is very effective at getting them to catch on. Such as, “I see those flamingoes, dear. They are pink.”
But at what point do you step in and actually correct speech? Ever?
There is definitely a division on this subject. There are plenty who say to let it be and it will self correct eventually (not always true). That correcting the child will cause them to be more self conscious and they may not want to speak if it keeps happening.
There are also those who feel that to give the child the best advantage you should help them be at their best and this includes speaking properly. Your speech makes a big first impression and there is no reason to wait it out.
With two very polar views what is a parent to do?
As with many things, I sort of sit right in the middle on this issue. I am not going to hound some poor 4-year-old all day every time he says “puhsketti”, but I am not going to damage his psyche by telling him one time the correct pronunciation and having him repeat after me slowly.
I have been told by a speech therapist that the best way to correct pronunciation without adding undue stress to the child, is only once per day, per word. So you only correct “puhsketti” once on Monday, once on Tuesday, no matter how many times he says it that day.
Now that being said, for me, correcting once does not mean me saying “The word is spuh-geh-tee” once and never mentioning it again. I spend a couple of minutes exploring the word with the child. Break it down. Sound it out slow. Repeat syllables after me.
I have actually discovered children who immediately could say a word perfectly after one of these 1-2 minute break-downs. It was simply as though they had no idea the right way to say it.
Sometimes I think we underestimate our child’s abilities. Or that we are WAY too afraid to hurt feelings. I’m not going around willy-nilly, hurting little kids’ feelings and cackling wickedly about it. It is highly unlikely that small doses of one-on-one correction is going to cause them to never speak again. They may actually enjoy that time and seek out more help (I have seen this).
I parent intuitively so I tend to feel out each situation. I don’t correct every word that is mispronounced once a day. That would be excessive. I go with my gut. I look for good opportunities. If I feel the child is probably capable of saying a word correctly, or they are really butchering it to where people can not understand them, I will step in. I can usually feel out how much to help and when.
I say there is no one right answer. Go with your gut. Step back a little. Help your child a little. You may be surprised at how quickly they pick things up.
The only thing I can NOT condone is letting it go and speaking the mispronounced words to your kids as well because you think it’s cute. I have seen the harm this can do.
So what do you think is the best way to handle mispronunciation and speech issues with kids?